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AMC winter caretaker survives 1,500-foot slide into King Ravine

March 31, 2010
RANDOLPH — An Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) winter hut caretaker, Doug Soholt, age 25, of Colorado, survived a 1,500-foot fall down the Great Gully in the northwest corner of King Ravine on the north side of Mt. Adams.

His hiking buddy, Nathaniel "Nathan" Blauss, age 28, of Hanson, Mass., a member of the AMC's construction crew, looked for him, but the fallen hiker reported the accident, setting in motion a technical rescue that took nearly 10 hours from start to finish.

Both men, who work out of AMC Pinkham Notch, were on days off.

The two men went hiking on the north side of Mt. Adams on Sunday and at about 1:30 p.m., after reaching the 5,799-foot summit, they began to walk down onto the Gulfside trail, reported Lt. Doug Gralenski of the N. H. Fish and Game Department in a press release.

Mr. Soholt lost his footing on the icy alpine slab that marks early spring conditions. Mr. Soholt could not arrest his fall because of the steep terrain.

Mr. Blauss watched his buddy slide very fast for about 100 yards and then disappear over the lip into the Ravine.

Mr. Blauss reported these details to Lt. Gralenski at about 6:30 p.m. when they discussed the accident's details in the Appalachia trailhead parking lot off Route 2.

Mr. Blauss declined to be interviewed, noting that he was far too concerned about his friend to answer questions. He told Lt. Gralenski, however, that he had tried to find his buddy down the steeply angled slope, but eventually had stopped his search because of the likelihood that he would merely compound the problem by being injured himself.

Mr. Blauss suggested to Lt. Gralenski that other rescuers could look to find the steps he had chopped out with his ice axe and his faded orange ski pole that he had left behind to mark his search effort.

Soon after Mr. Soholt stopped sliding down the Great Gully, he used his cell phone to call 911.

He gave his general position and reported that he only had superficial head injuries, but was otherwise unharmed, said Mr. Gralenski, who was notified of the accident at 2:30 p.m.

"He was stranded near the treeline and could not go either up or down."

The five members of the state Fish and Game Department's Advanced Search and Rescue Team and four members of the Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue (AVSAR), including Al Sochard of Randolph, knew they would be facing a high-angle, technical rescue.

The rescuers assembled at Appalachia were asked to search the Ravine's large headwall both from the bottom and from the rim.

Because the hiker had survived his fall, Lt. Gralenski assumed that he had come to rest before pitching over the steepest part of the headwall. This, however, was not the case.

Mr. Sochard continued to make cell phone contact with Lt. Gralenski, although his batteries were running down. At about 7 p.m., the injured hiker, who said he was up and walking around to stay warm, reported that he could spot RMC Crag Camp on the Ravine's upper west edge and figured that his compass bearing, was 342 degrees, magnetic north. Lt. Gralenski directed Mr. Soholt to blow his emergency whistle every five minutes.

Mr. Sochard telephoned from Crag Camp to say that the needed technical equipment, including rope, was at hand.

C.O.s Brad Morse and Alex Lopashanski spotted Mr. Soholt's headlamp at about 8:30 p.m. "Miraculously, the hiker had fallen approximately two-thirds of the way down the headwall of King Ravine — roughly 1,500 feet down extremely steep terrain," Lt. Gralenski said.

It took about an hour for rescuers to reach him, but once there they lowered Mr. Soholt out of the steep terrain, and then he was able to walk out under his own power with rescuers' help.

He reached the safety of the trailhead at 12:45 a.m. His right eye was swollen shut, and he had cuts on his head, but he was in remarkably good condition, considering the magnitude of his fall, Lt. Gralenski said. He was taken to Memorial Hospital in North Conway for treatment.

"Truthfully, I knew he was all right because he had spoken to 911 after he had fallen. However, if all I had known was where and how far he had fallen, I would have been preparing to remove a critically injured or deceased person," Lt. Gralenski explained. "He is one very fortunate person to still be with us. If he had hit any rocks or trees of substance on his descent, he would not have survived the fall."

Lt. Gralenski places much of the blame on Mr. Soholt's wearing 'micro crampons' — similar to ice creepers — and carrying ski poles.

"Traditional crampons and an ice axe — not ski poles — should be standard equipment in this area at this time of year," he said. "If Soholt had had these two pieces of gear, he most likely would have been able to prevent his fall or to self-arrest immediately after the fall. Not having them could easily have been a fatal mistake."

Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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